Iraq's oil exports climbed to their highest level in February since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, boosted by a resumption in exports from the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north, a senior oil official said Tuesday.
The country, which overwhelmingly relies of oil revenues for its budget, also benefited from the spike in higher crude prices triggered by the violent uprising in Libya that has led to a 50 percent cut in production from that OPEC member.
Iraqi oil exports averaged 2.202 million barrels per day in February, up from 2.161 million barrels per day the previous month, said Falah al-Amiri, head of the State Oil Marketing Organization. At prices ranging between $97-$98 per barrel, Iraq generated more than $6 billion from oil sales in February, he said.
The increase is crucial for Iraq which, although sitting atop the world's fourth largest proven reserves of conventional crude, has been struggling to rebuild its oil sector after years of war, sanctions, neglect and more recently, sabotage. But the country's precarious security situation, coupled with feuding between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurds in the north have slowed efforts to bolster the vital sector.
The Kurds have sought greater control over oil in their crude-rich region, while Baghdad has argued that the oil is a national resource that should be under central government control.
The resumption of exports from the north helped boost February's figures. The Kurdish region's prime minister said Sunday that oil exports were running slightly over 80,000 barrels per day from two northern fields.
In all, Iraq exported an average of 1.708 million barrels per day through the south while 484,000 barrels per day were pumped through to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, through the north, said al-Amiri. In addition, another 10,000 barrels per day were exported to neighboring Jordan using tanker trucks.
Exports from the north were halted a few months after they started in June 2009 amid a disagreement between the Baghdad government and Kurdish officials over payments. Earlier this year, an agreement was reached to resume the exports.
The government aims to raise daily output to 12 million barrels by 2017, a level that would put it nearly on par with Saudi Arabia's current production capacity. Many analysts, however, say the target is unrealistic.
Even so, the current boost in exports and oil prices will likely help ease pressure on Iraq's budget.
The government has set an $82.6 billion budget for 2011, based on an average oil price of $76.5 per barrel and 2.2 million barrels per day in oil exports. The deficit is projected at about $13.4 billion.
Underscoring the challenges Iraq faces, gunmen last week stormed the 310,000-barrels-a-day Beiji refinery _ the country's biggest _ and bombed the facility, forcing its shutdown. Hours later, the 30,000 barrel per day Samawa refinery was shut down due to a fire in a storage unit.
On Monday, the Oil Ministry said it had restarted operations partially at Beiji refinery and full operations at Samawa. Beiji produces refined fuels for the local market, and a prolonged outage at the plant can mean electricity cuts and long lines at the pumps for Iraqis who are already fed up with corruption and the pace of development in the country.